Thursday, December 30, 2010

Esperance's first days in America

Here are some Facebook photos of Esperance's first week here! (plus a few random ones he included from Brazza)

He's had enough of English by now and thinks we're all speaking Chinese instead. (I know the feeling well from my years living abroad.) There have only been a few things that he hasn't seen before, namely the garbage disposal in the sink and the skywalks for pedestrians downtown. He also has noted that the architecture is different here than in Europe. We haven't spent much time in Portland yet, but when he saw the city lights and the big buildings he said, "Now I really feel like I'm in the US!"

The relatives were duly impressed with how he handled 17 people in the house on Christmas Day, joining in the festivities like he'd always been among us. The two of us even serenaded the group with a rousing rendition of Feliz Navidad, as well as a song in Kikoongo. Good times so far!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

I came home just in time for the most delicious holiday of the year! See pics here.

There are some distinct advantages to being pregnant at Thanksgiving:
1) I wear pants with an elastic waistband
2) My baby bump covers for the food pooch ("This is all baby, I swear!")
3) I WANT to gain weight

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Anniversary photos

Hey everybody! Sorry for my disappearance these past few months. I was vomiting most of the time, so you'll have to forgive me :o)

Here are some lovely photos of my first wedding anniversary celebration with Esperance this past weekend.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Random thoughts on life in Brazzaville

Here are a few thoughts I've been wanting to share with you. They are completely unrelated from each other, but each represents a little slice of life in Brazzaville, Congo.

1) The 50 year anniversary of the independence of Congo is coming up August 15th. To prepare for this illustrious event, the city has decided to tear up and replace most of its water pipes and roads. The end result I'm sure will be fantastic (at least for a month or so until new pot holes form), but in the meantime I'm getting really tired of seeing "detour" signs everywhere I go; there are basically only detours left to drive on, no straight road to anywhere. You literally can't drive into certain neighborhoods now. I'm sure that one day I will go to leave my house and I simply will not be able to! My friend Barb has had to stop going into the prison on Fridays because she literally would have to jump over a ditch to get onto the property (guess that's one way of doing security--build a mote!). For several weeks the route between my home and work (along which the aforementioned prison lies) felt like a military training course; I gave myself points for every danger safely avoided and daily new obstacles of holes and piles would form. But now it’s impassable and I have to brave the main roads which take me out of my way and put me onto the path of policemen who want to pull me over. But the 15th is rapidly approaching and I’m hoping they’ll be able to finish these ambitious projects in time.

2) The main (pretty much the only) supermarket in town smells like a hamster cage. This is actually putting it in kind terms considering the cute and cuddly connotation of hamsters, so let’s just go with “rat butt”. I took a poll amongst my friends and they unanimously used the word ‘urine’ to describe the notorious odor. Now this smell is to be easily explained in most of the small boutiques in town—they have cats to keep away the rats and these cats raise their babies under the shelves in the store so the store literally becomes a litter box. But the source of the supermarket smell is less observable, although I did look at some food the other day whose packaging had clearly been chewed open…probably not by hungry customers. Thinking about this makes the muddy, pungent open-air market seem a whole lot cleaner to me by comparison. At least those sweet market ladies aren’t trying to sell me something a rodent has previously gnawed on!

OK, people, you know I love Congo and don’t complain very often, so you’ll allow me this one post, right? I’m only supposed to say good things about the country, so here’s my positive spin on the ranting of the previous paragraphs—Thank you, city planners for working on all those rough roads that lie between my house and place of work. That will make my commute totally awesome! And thank you, super market store owners for being willing to operate in this country where conditions make doing business difficult. I’m glad you’re here!

Monday, May 17, 2010

House-Hunting: Starting from scratch

Well, the other couple has decided they're not ready to commit to anything since they still have some months before they get married, so we're scrapping the duplex idea. Back to square one!

I hate house-hunting. You spend so much time and money and still come up empty handed. I'm ready to pitch a tent.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Our Dream Duplex :o)

OK, these are all the photos I can get up at the moment (spotty Internet connection). So basically the house still needs all the fixtures (sinks, lights, etc.) and the walls need painting and the floors need tiling. So it will look a lot prettier in the end than what it is in these photos.

This is the living room. Will be a little bit of a squeeze to get a dining room table and couch and buffet and all in there, but I think it can work.

This is the big bedroom. Big enough

This is the bathroom. It's pretty small. They still need to add a sink and a shower head. I guess the room will get pretty wet when you shower (note the hole on the floor on the right). I'm assuming it will all get tiled.

This is the kitchen. It's pretty tight quarters but I think we can swing it.

House-hunting in Congo Day #365

I realized the other day that it has been a year since Espérance and I starting praying for a house! God has not left us homeless; au contraire, we have had some good times these past 7 months of marriage. But we’re STILL praying to find a house to settle in!

The other day we happened across a real estate agent (so to speak…the system is different here…it’s a bit like in the US, only really confusing, if not chaotic…) who wanted to show us a house he was sure we would like. What really sealed it for me was it apparently was 2 houses being built on the same lot which was funny because my colleague Angi and I have started joking (and praying) that we would find a duplex so we could live together when she gets married at the end of the year to her DR Congolese fiancé (the Ameri-Congo club is growing! Sorry, we’re very elite so you probably can’t join). Well, this house he was sure we would like I was able to eliminate after looking at it for about 3 seconds. It was lovely when we walked in since it’s brand new, but the so called “modern kitchen” only had enough space for a sink and counter top (guess the fridge and stove would go in the living room!) and in order to take a shower in the bathroom I’m pretty sure I would have actually had to be standing on top of the toilet. No thanks.

I was really regretting the $20 I had paid to the realtor as we went to look at another house with him today. But much to my surprise, he showed us something very interesting! Our dream of a duplex apparently was not so far-fetched after all. There is one being built by a Congolese Parisian lady and they have offered it to us at a reasonable price! The dimensions are smaller than I was hoping for, especially for the kitchen, but could work out with some careful planning. The most amazing part is there is an underground water tank and a pump, so I would have water flowing in my house!!!!!!!!!!!! This is more than I had hoped for. It’s a bit further out than the other house we had looked at, but is on good accessible roads and is maybe a 10 minute walk from a bus stop that would take me to my work. There’s a place to park my car and there’s already a good sized wall all around. There’s no place for planting trees or grass, but we could always install planters and pots to grow vegetables and flowers. There was power when we were there so that’s a good sign.

The fact that it is unfinished is GREAT for 3 reasons: 1) We can have it made to our specifications, 2) We’ll be the first people to live in it, and 3) Hopefully the owner will be ok with finishing Angi’s side more slowly (it needs even more work that our side) so that it can be done just in time for her wedding and she won’t have to pay rent until then. This is practically miraculous if it works out because who would have thought we could find a duplex with both sides available and the possibility of delaying Angi’s move for over 6 months?!

Please pray for Angi and Rémy and Espérance and I to make the right decision! We need to get back to the owner asap (Monday?) because houses go very quickly. If Angi and Rémy are undecided or decide not to take it, it will be hard for Espérance and I because we need to know who would end up living next to us. It’s a hard decision because it’s not PERFECT, but it’s close enough to what we’re looking for that it’s not easy to turn it down either. What do you think?!!

I'll try to get some pics up soon...

Friday, April 09, 2010

Easter 2010

He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Il est vivant! Il est ressucité! Qui? Jésus!

I celebrated Easter, as I have for the past 4 years in Congo (minus last year when I was with my mommy at Saint Joseph's!) at the Cathedral up the street from my work. It's the most important holiday on the liturgical calendar, so the service is replete with dancing girls, beautiful music, and an air of holy festivity.

Afterwards (and the great part is the mass is over by 9:30am!) I scurried home and made lunch for my beautiful family (as inlaws are called in French) plus my girlfriends Angi and Mikhal.

The meal was a great blend of American/Congolese. Mamy (my mom-in-law) brought fried chicken, Mikhal made cheesy mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, Angi came with dessert, and I prepared safou, rice, and deviled eggs. Espérance has deemed the eggs no longer a holiday food, but rather something I should make a couple times a month :o) I was happy that everybody seemed to like everything on the table!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hints from Jello-Weez: The Joys of Mapeline

Hint #2 The Joys of Mapleine

I grew up on Mapleine syrup. I’m sure there are Maple snobs out there who only believe in real maple syrup, but probably most of you grew up on some other kind of goopy fake version like Mrs Butterworth. I can’t stand it when people take that cold goopy stuff out of their fridge and expect me to put it on my pancakes. I’m rather a fan of the easy to make, hot off the stove batch of Mapleine. It’s economical to boot.

One of the things I enjoy about Mapleine is using up the leftovers over the next few days. One obvious way is to just keep making pancakes; my helpful hint concerning that is you can keep leftovers in the fridge and just pop them in the toaster to reheat! Reheat your syrup and you’re good to go. Other tasty treats include: mixing it with plain yogurt (yum!!), using it as a sweetener for your tea, and poaching eggs in it (à la Quebecoise! Check out this article on “sugar shacks” For the eggs I would not recommend using syrup in which you have put blueberries—turns the eggs black! (Thanks, Mom, it was delicious, but…). The syrup is also superb on oatmeal. Bon appétit!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy Anniversary

The 31st of this month makes 3 years since I first met Espérance! The other day we happened to have a concert at the very place where we met all those years ago. So we took a photo in front of the stage right at the same spot where we talked for the first time :o)

Friday, March 19, 2010

House-hunting in Congo, Take 2

So the polls are in and…drumroll…we’ve decided to take the house! It’s not a done deal since we don’t have a contract yet, but we’re pursuing it. It will probably be another month or so before everything is fixed up and purchased and we’re ready to actually live there.

I admit that my dear blog readers’ comments did not influence me much. I mostly talked to colleagues here and in the end it was talking to God that won me over. I realized that so long as we don’t settle down into a place of our own we’re sort of floating in a no man’s land and we can’t really establish our ministry. The Lord gave me Psalm 107 which speaks of wandering people finding an inhabitable city to settle in. It also talks about making springs in the desert so I’m praying for more water to flow in our pipes! I also liked a question my mom posed me; something like, “Do you think you could make it feel like home?” My answer to that question was definitely yes. I really like the spacious front room and would be able to have many visitors over. The rooms are all big by Congolese standards and that counts a lot to me, especially to have a good-sized kitchen to work in.

I did really appreciate hearing from people though and would like to address the comments that were left.
Stephanie Mason said...
I love this post! I actually forwarded it to a few coworkers who also fount it very interesting. I do take so many things for granted- running water, fully stocked kitchen, even electricity! I am rooting for you to find a home you both love and look forward to more posts!
Thanks Steph! Yes, so many things taken for granted at home. We just readjust our standards here and it’s really not too hard to adapt! Espérance is easy to please compared to me since he’s used to the conditions here, but I would say he does like this house and we’re both convinced now that taking it is the right thing to do.

bo betsy said...
oh my, ca.
(the farmhouse is looking SO good!)
i think i liked the jello - weez entry better. :)
like mom, i have no doubt that things could be improved and made home-y... but, ew - i hope you don't have to be the one to tackle the bathroom! also - is it mold on the walls? seems like it would be too hot there to have mold problems...?
you amaze me. endlessly. i will pray for your decisions -- love the pros and con list - you are so good at living there!
love to you both!
Yeah, sister, it’s funny to look back at how we thought the farmhouse was inhabitable until you lived there for like 2 years :o) For sure not me cleaning the bathroom!! If they don’t do a good enough job before the house becomes our responsibility, I’ll hire a maid for like 10 bucks to come spend a day there before I move in. Um, yeah, I honestly didn’t even notice the walls because they all look like that here! It’s water damage mostly I think. Some mold maybe too. It’s humid here. Plus the quality of the walls and the paint isn’t great. It’s water-based paint which doesn’t really last.

Carrie said...
The front yard makes me sad. :( What if you decide to have a little garden (and finally grow your own basil)? where will the kiddos kick around a soccer ball? I know it's annoying, but you should also add into the thought about when people come and visit. Which I know you want. :) So, running water in the bathroom might be kinda nice.
I definitely want to grow some of our own veggies and herbs! We can do it Congolese style which means making wooden planters that are like low tables. Would be cool too because we could actually take our garden with us when we move! I’m not planning on living here forever. I could see having our first kid here and maybe moving when they’re still little (say in like 3 years). I do want visitors! But we’ll have a system in place for water. Visitors to Congo just need to be aware of the living conditions here!

Amy said...
It's actually not that bad of a house! :) I've seen worse here, as I'm sure you have. :) I'd love to see the "after" pictures, since we've now seen the "before" pictures. :)
Thanks for the vote of confidence, Amy! By Congolese standards this is a pretty nice house. Not lavish or anything, but definitely better than average.

maggie said...
in my opinion, running water is a must, especially in the kitchen. your home should be your refuge, not just another place for you to have a cross-cultural experience. if they can't figure out a way to make that work, then you should keep looking.
Mags, I was really surprised that after all the places in the world you have lived, you still need running water! Guess Congo is kind of bottom of the barrel. Besides the people who live where we’re living now and the people who live on the center where I work, I don’t know hardly anyone who has good water here in Brazza. Even if we were to find a place that has water now, in 3 months it could go away and not come back for a year. The only reliable water source is to have your own well and pump. One day we’ll build a house and dig a well but that costs like 10 or 20 thousand dollars! We could keep looking, but the odds are not in our favor. This house is already above par just by virtue of the fact that we don’t have to leave our own yard to search for water!

Daniel and Natalie said...
the hardest part of house hunting is that feeling of losing time on your decisions. It is one of the biggest things we have to look at and it has to be done in a very short amount of time. The questions are endless. I know this doesn't help but just wanted you to know i get what it feels like. good luck!
It’s good to realize that house-hunting is a hard decision no matter where you are in the world! Once again, I’m glad I have Jesus to help me make choices. It’s so much less stress to go by faith than to think that everything depends on me!

photos of Papa Gabriel's

Hi! Check out these cool pics my friend Brian took with his awesome camera on our recent trip up the north road to a favorite swimming hole. It's refreshing to get out of the city!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Bride price in Congo

Here's an interesting blurb about getting married in Congo: I've seen this in real life as my friends have prepared their weddings.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

House-hunting in Congo

I’ve never had to house-hunt before; my options for lodging have always been pretty straightforward. Not so now that I’m married! Espérance and I have been renting the annex at another mission’s compound and this has been an excellent transition point for us, but ultimately we’d like to find a house and actually set up a home of our own. Thus has commenced my very first house-hunting experience.

In spite of my lack of experience, I have a sneaking suspicion that this process works slightly differently here in Brazzaville than it would back in Salem, OR. First of all, unless the house you’re looking at is in the forest, in the US you would never question the owner about whether or not his house has running water and if the electricity comes regularly! I’m currently evaluating whether running water is a non-negotiable for me or not…

Second of all, the process of actually locating a house that is available is quite different. If you want, you can hire an agent to take you around and show you houses. But you have to pay them for this each time and there might be 5 other agents showing 20 other people the same house. If you’re lucky enough to know someone in the business, you can just pay their transport and only give them money when you actually get a place. Otherwise, you have to just get a hold of inside information about when a house is becoming available. But you better act fast or someone else will snatch it up before you.

We’ve taken the semi-passive route of waiting for the information to come to us. So as of today we have seen a total of 2 houses in the past few months. The one we saw today is posing me a decision-making problem.

Pro: the floor plan is good for us, spacious rooms, 3 bedrooms
Con: it needs a lot of work to fix everything that is broken, missing, or dirty
Pro: most of what needs to be done we can pay them to do and they’ll take it out of our rent
Con: the location is not super close to where I work, adding at least 20 minutes each way to my commute
Pro: the location isn’t as far away from my work as a lot of other places in town and it’s close to the market where I shop and on a good bus line
Con: the water only comes out of the tap at night and never comes into the kitchen
Pro: I’m already accustomed to taking bucket baths and there are several options for rigging systems to make the water more convenient
Con: investing in fixing up and making a place home when you’re just a renter and will leave it all behind eventually is kind of a drag
Pro: it’s got plenty of space for the kiddos, so we could end up staying there for a number of years without needing to see something else
Con: What if there’s something better?
Pro: What if we don’t find something better and I regret not taking this place?
What do you think?

This is where I would park my car

This is the front gate

This is the spacious living/dining room

This is the stinky bathroom that they desperately need to clean. The shower is ridiculously tiny, but otherwise it's nice with all the tiling.

This is the master bedroom. Walls are being repainted white.

There are also two smaller bedrooms

Here's the front yard

This is the kitchen. I would need to use our wedding funds to purchase our fridge and stove and everything

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Hints from Jello-Weez

I’m starting a new column on my blog as a spoof off of the famous Heloise. I’m no domestic goddess, but I’m learning, and living here in Congo sometimes forces me to come up with creative solutions to things. Plus a lot of the missionary women around me are truly homemaking geniuses, so I have no shortage of hints to share. Hope you enjoy it and find something helpful from time to time.

Hint #1 Yummy snack (and it’s gluten and dairy free!)
I just wanted to share with you my new favorite snack. I started eating it a couple of months ago, but now it's especially dear to me because I’m doing a gluten and dairy free diet to try to get rid of my eczema. I call it my Peanut Butter Banana Boat. Ingredients: one banana, spread with peanut butter, topped with chocolate chips. So cute and yummy, no? It’s only unfortunate that I have a limited supply of American PB and Choc chips. But bananas are cheap and plentiful here in central Africa!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Warning: Reading this blog may cause digestive upset

So I've had a new adventure recently. Ever heard of mango worms? My personal collection is pictured above. They hatch when flies lay eggs on your clothes as they are hanging on the line to dry. The catch is WHERE do they hatch? Under you skin! Little bumps form that itch like crazy. Every once in a while you suddenly get zapped with a stinging sensation...that's the worms moving inside you! When the bumps get bigger and harder and you can't stand it another second, you put some oil on to suffocate the guy and then squeeze them and voila, out pops a wiggly worm! The first time I witnessed this was my first year in Congo when I was staying up north in Ouesso. My colleague thought he had a boil but treated it to no avail until one day a Congolese came by and was like, "Hey! Just squeeze it!" and out popped a very ripe worm wiggling and writhing. I thought, "That's it. There's just no where to go from here."

This past week I survived a nasty batch of mango worms myself. Mine even had the special effect of getting infected and causing a fever which kept me home for an entire day. I'm back in good health now with just a few battle scars.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Cute couples

Here are some cute pictures from a wedding last week. The groom works for the CMA missionaries. I helped the bride with her train (the picture here is the traditional wedding...she wore a white dress at the church wedding) and helped them collect the gifts. The other couple is my friends kevin and Dior who were married in August, where I was also the bride's right hand woman. They say that when the young people in their church see them together, they want to get married too!

And last but not least, me and Espérance looking snazzy and chic!

Monday, February 01, 2010

My walk home

So I continue to be extremely blog-negligent, but then sometimes I realize that I can just write about stuff that's normal and everyday to me and it will still be interesting and foreign to most of my audience. Case in point: my walk home from work. This past month we've been taking care of a friend's apartment which is only a 15 minute walk from my office. Last night I walked home after our Sunday evening service and decided to make note of what I saw along the way.

The first thing I do is walk out the gate and say goodnight to the guard. I turn left up the hill towards the cathedral. At the top of the hill I turn right past a little boutique which is basically a big red box with bars over the window at the counter where you place your order for pop or a sandwich or various pantry goods like canned peas and sardines. There are men or students eating a snack and having a drink outside. I go by quickly and hope no one greets me. A cute brown dog with a nasty open wound on his ear (which almost all dogs have here) sleeps on the ground.

I walk along the street which is at the crest of a hill and enjoy a nice view of the city lights at night. A crazy man sits on the ground along a wall and I walk in the middle of the road where there’s more light and no garbage or sand. I turn left at the end of the block and usually find students studying under the big street lamps outside the mobile phone company compound and Cameroonian embassy. As I was pondering this practice last night, to my surprise, one of the young men called out “Bonsoir, Mama Jessica!” I vaguely recognized the teen boy (he was at my wedding for all I know!). “Do you study here because there is no light at home?” I asked. “No,” he said, “for the distraction.” “Ah, you like to be outside when you study? I’m like that too.” I went on my way, happy to have resolved that question for myself since for years I have been observing people reading under street lamps in this way.

The neighborhood I walk through consists mostly of large houses and embassies. Some are actually rather attractive buildings and when I’m with Espérance he usually starts talking about what he’ll do one day when he is rich. There are civilian guards sitting outside many of the houses, which makes me feel safer walking that way after dark. We greet each other curtly and I try to avoid conversation.

When I get up to the main road which leads to the apartment building we’re living in, I turn left which takes me up a hill and down the other side. This goes past what used to be the Meridian Hotel, supposedly the nicest in town but really a big rip off. It’s being renovated now by some Arab company. There’s a small boutique which usually has a few customers. One night as I passed by there, a prostitute asked me to buy her a Coke and I obliged, giving her $1, and hoping I could see her again sometime and talk to her. She was a little scary looking with a hairy chest and matted long wig. Anyways…

Just before I get to our building, I pass along a nice wall lined with beautiful plants. There are even lights in the flowerbed and it all is quite lovely. The mystery is that on the other side is an unfinished house, or rather, more likely, a house which once was but is now torn down and pitted out. It looks like it was going to be a very nice building. I wish these people who aren’t doing anything with their charming property would let us move in and finish it for them!

When I get home I still have to climb up to the 4th floor, which is quite the challenge sometimes on a long hot day!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Good news for orphanage

It's been a long time in coming, but I have finally updated the House of Hope blog concerning the purchase of their property! I was personallly there to witness the transfer of funds and signed the contract as a representative of all the folks in the US who made this possible!